Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

E-This: Self Published Ebook Authors Are Cashing Cheques

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I’m working on my next book, an ebook set for release in 2000 and whatever. It’s going to be a spin-off of the War of the Worlds sci-fi series, only this time instead of tripod-fighting aliens invading the Earth, my extraterrestrial protagonists will be working as door-to-door, ebook tablet salespersons waging a relentless attack on the Hard Copier sect of the fading humanoid race who are hell bent on preserving their off-white paper prototype. Before I go this route, I want to make a few things clear. Ebooks can’t be used as toilet paper if you’re stranded on a remote island! Ebooks aren’t the new doorstop! Second-hand ebookstores are on the rise! There’s Star Wars, and then there’s The Tablet Wars! Ebook hoarders are not buried alive! Ebooks! Godzilla!

Though indie shape shifters I adore, like Jim Munroe, have been giving away ebooks since 2000, my plan is to give away the first few sample chapters for free and then proceed to figure out how to generate some dough by selling the full title at a price point of around $4.99 (hey, something has to pay to support this lifestyle).

Why go this route? And why now? Well, according to BookNet Canada, ebook sales are on the upswing and now represent just over 16 percent of the overall book market in Canada. Sure, print sales still dominate, but in Obama’s America, ebook sales have already surpassed hard covers and now only sell slightly less than paperbacks. It’s interesting that the vast majority of the armchair critics speculating on the future of ebooks aren’t ebook authors themselves, so I decided to go straight to the source and pick the brain of the only self-publishing ebook author I know personally, Shadonna Richards. Richards, who used to write for a local black-culture rag that I used to edit, also just happens to be a Kindle bestselling romance author. Over digital cable lines, I asked her to help me debunk some of the mythology around ebook writing, selling, hustling and promotion. Why did she go the ebook route to begin with in 2011? “At first it was out of necessity since I had been through a ton of rejections from major publishers and agents,” admits Richards, who to date has sold approximately 165,000 ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle. Calling herself “an e-book self-publisher by choice” now, Richards appears less interested in appeasing Canadian publishing industry gatekeepers and more intrigued with hitting readers directly. “I love the freedom and the instant connection to readers. Funny thing, one of the books that was rejected went on to sell 60,000 copies in a few months on Kindle.”

Her journey began in February of 2011 when she was inspired by the story of Amanda Hocking, a young Minnesota woman who was able to quit her job, sell her fully DIY ebooks on Kindle, and went from selling a few books per month to ultimately selling over a million copies of her nine books, earning a few million dollars in sales. Richards read and subscribed to Amanda Hocking’s blog posts and studied her path to success. And the rest as they say has been history.

Richards started out by uploading some of her old non-fiction titles, A Gift of Hope and Think & Be Happy. She sold a total of five copies in the month of March 2011. By the next year, March 2012, after releasing her third novel, she sold 15,271 ebooks in a single month, 56,260 copies in total. And it’s been all uphill from there. She’s had months where she’s earned more than $6,000 USD per month from royalties. Let’s just put it this way. After I spend the next six weeks or so shilling Far From Over, I’m going to reconnect with Shadonna, and we’re going to go for lunch — on her. While romance writers like her make a killing selling books by volume for $2.99 (or less) a pop, it’s becoming tougher to convince folk to shell out anything over $20 for a book, during a recession that won’t seem to go away for some.

The interesting thing here is that the self-publishing folkies I hang out with, who have gone the pay-to-play route, shelling out their own money in the low four figures to publish their own hard copy titles, have had a slow time recouping their initial investment. In the ebook world, naturally, those hard costs are mostly slashed, and Richards insists the only thing worth spending some cash on is “hiring a professional editor,” which she highly recommends. “And even when you do, not everything is caught and some may complain of typos that get through (this is true of traditionally published books as well as self-published books),” she says. “Other than that, you need a great cover and if you can't do it yourself, hire a professional. Luckily I've been able to do my own covers.” If you have crappy DIY design skills, you can just search online for free art work that falls underneath a Creative Commons License or just go to and download great images for as low as $2.00. With shrinking marketing budgets affecting both the traditional and non-traditional book marketplace, Richards has mostly relied on word-of-mouth and viral buzz. “Readers tell their friends and share it on their blogs or Facebook pages. God bless them,” she says, though she has done blog tours, tweets occasionally and has purchased sponsorship ads on Kindle Nation Daily. 

Ebook success notwithstanding, certainly not everybody will be the next EL James, whose Fifty Shades of Grey became the world’s fastest selling book, despite starting out as an ebook series. In fact, it’s quite conceivable that nobody will be the next EL James. Regardless, Richards has some tips she’d like to share with burgeoning ebook authors who want to go this route. “Study the market, be prepared to work hard and write regularly,” she says. “Write what you are passionate about and hire a professional editor. Don't forget to join an online community of writers and readers like Kindle boards. I've learned tons of stuff from those wonderful members in the past. As someone once said, writers write alone but they don't succeed that way.”

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His latest book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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